Cognitive biases for disgust in contamination fear

Michael Alan Charash, Fordham University


Disgust has been conceptually and empirically related to contamination fear. As such, cognitive biases toward disgust were explored in individuals with elevated contamination fear. The cognitive biases explored were attention, memory, and interpretation. University undergraduates served as participants. There were three groups of participants. There was a group of participants with elevated contamination fear, as well as two comparison groups, one with high trait-anxiety and one with low trait-anxiety. Attentional bias was explored using both masked and unmasked presentations of three categories of words: disgust, social threat, and neutral. Contrary to what was predicted, participants across groups demonstrated significant attentional bias toward social threat words. Furthermore, there was no attentional bias toward disgust-relevant words in those participants with contamination fear. It was postulated that participants were emotionally primed toward social threat via their increased need for social affiliation because of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. However, there was a strong, but nonsignificant correlation between increased latency for disgust relevant words and contamination fear for those participants with elevated contamination fear in the masked Stroop. Memory bias was explored using a free recall of words presented on the Stroop task, as well as an implicit memory task involving two-letter word stems of the same words. In both the explicit and implicit memory tasks, across all participants, disgust-relevant words were recalled more than social threat and neutral words. Additionally, in the explicit memory task, there was a significant positive correlation between the number of disgust words recalled and disgust sensitivity. Interaction contrasts revealed that when comparing disgust and social threat words, the contamination-fearful group recalled significantly more disgust words than the other two groups combined. Interpretation bias was explored using ambiguous scenarios with forced and free choice tasks. Across all participants, more disgust-relevant interpretations were offered than fear-relevant words in both interpretive tasks. Additionally, interaction contrasts revealed that when comparing disgust interpretations and threat interpretations, the contamination-fearful group offered significantly more disgust interpretations than fearful ones than the other two groups combined. Lastly, across all participants, there was a significant positive correlation between disgust sensitivity and contamination fear.

Subject Area

Cognitive therapy

Recommended Citation

Charash, Michael Alan, "Cognitive biases for disgust in contamination fear" (2003). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3098126.